Ji-Yong speaks with his music

By Korea Herald

Piano prodigy, now grown up, ready to tell his story through music

  • Published : Jan 1, 2013 - 20:15
  • Updated : Jan 1, 2013 - 20:15
The life of 21-year-old pianist Ji-Yong has been extraordinary.

He shot to international stardom when he became the youngest ever to win the New York Philharmonic Young Artists Competition in 2001 at the age of 10 and debuted with the New York Philharmonic with Maestro Kurt Mazur as conductor. Since then he has performed with world-class orchestras and maestros and is now a Julliard student.

And Ji-Yong, whose full name is Kim Ji-yong, seems to be determined to show the world that he is no longer just a child prodigy. He is holding recitals throughout January, in Seongnam and Goyang, both in Gyeonggi Province, Daejeon, and finally in Seoul on Jan. 15 at the Seoul Arts Center Concert Hall. He will perform pieces by Schumann, Brahms and Beethoven as well as Bach. Some of the pieces in the program are also on his latest mini album, “Bach Exhibition,” containing Fantasia in C Minor, BWV906; “Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue” and Bach/Busoni Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004. 
Pianist Ji-Yong talks to The Korea Herald at a caf in Seoul on Dec. 26. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

“Holding a nationwide recital requires a lot of mental stamina. You have to bring different audiences and picture yourself in a new environment, although playing the same program. And it is excruciatingly hard for the body and mind,” the pianist told The Korea Herald.

“But what gets me going on a tour is discovering something new in music every time, wishing each day you will get better and better. I think it is important to constantly remind myself about how much love there is in me for the music that I play, and how much time and devotion I put into this work,” he added.

The pianist said he was rather reserved most of the time, but would open up to the audience at concerts about who he really is and what his music is.

“I don’t usually let people in. Just handful people know who I am. But while I am playing I try to show it all,” he said.

If the audience is looking for some clues in the music they might consider listening carefully to the details of his playing.

“When I was doing Bach’s ‘Chaconne’ rearranged by Busoni, I created a story in my head about a man who has lived a very long strenuous life, very lonely, and with a lot of regrets. In the beginning he kind of goes crazy because of the emotions that were lashed out. I imagined him standing at the rooftop, thinking about committing suicide. Then I tried to track down what his past would have been ― and I tried to think about different people with different stories around me,” he said, picturing the very moment he decided on the direction of the piece.

The audience will be able to learn Ji-Yong’s mood of the day by listening to the last part of the piece where improvisation is involved.

“In the violin version it is the open B-straight. And I add either B-minor chord or B-major chord. If I want to go positive after all the darkness I go with major, or sometimes I go for the minor. It is different every time,” he said.

As much as he had devoted his life into music ― Ji-Yong said he still practices four to five hours a day ― he has found another passion in dance. He recently launched the “Ji-Yong Exhibition” project in which he produced and directed a music video, featuring himself dancing to “Chaconne.”

“It was meant to be very personal. One of my good friends is American modern dancer Kacey Hauk, who choreographed the first 30 seconds of the video. I improvised the rest. I have a great respect for the dance community and I love their passion,” he said.

“I will love music forever but I would like to learn dancing, as long as it takes.

“I have regrets in the past but now I understand that they are nothing to regret about. In the past being called a prodigy was a burden, but now I understand that it was something to cherish. I reserve my story for my music. I hope you will enjoy the music.”

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)